As a natural fibre, wool textile manufacturing requires a complex supply chain – which becomes even longer when recycling options and wool’s biodegradability are considered.
According to the most recent available figures, around 1.155 million kg (2018) of clean raw wool are produced by more than 1.177 billion sheep (2018) around the world. Sheep numbers in 2018 were the highest since 1992.
Some 500 different breeds of sheep grow wool in a range of colours, textures and lengths. Breeds vary by country and environment, making it very hard to generalize about sheep and wool.
Sheep are usually shorn once a year in the spring/summer months, although in some countries shearing may take place as many as three times a year. Where production systems are advanced, the wool is rigorously tested to determine properties and different grades are packed separately.
Wool is first assessed in its rawest form, when it is referred to as “greasy” wool. This is because the first stages of wool processing involve cleaning the wool and removing the “grease” or lanolin. Lanolin is used in personal care products (lip balm. moustache wax), can be used to produce Vitamin D3 and a number of other applications.
The wool is then weighed and assessed again in its “clean” form.
Processing continues to spinning, knitting, and weaving, after which most wool fabric, knitted or woven, is made into an item of apparel, or a textile like a blanket or upholstery.